Psychologists and journalists have it all wrong.
Why is it that even the professionals think that focusing on what is wrong in the world, or in our personal lives, will make things better? David Brooks, a New York Times columnist questions this concept in his May 16, 2019 column, “The Big Story You Don’t Read About.”
He says, “Too many journalists refuse to consider local social repair and community-building as news. It seems too goody-goody, too “worthy,” too sincere. It won’t attract eyeballs. That’s dead wrong.”
Psychologists make the same mistake with our clients. We spend a lot of time going over everything that makes people unhappy, in the misguided illusion that this preoccupation with grief will lead to answers. Don’t get me wrong, we need to grieve, to release the tensions and the sadnesses and the anger associated with life’s losses. But we also need to “repair,” as David says. We need to rebuild our lives with the strengths we have gained from our grief.
If all we do is focus on what’s wrong, it can leave us feeling hopeless, helpless, and depressed. As Brooks puts it, “People who consume a lot of media of this sort sink into this toxic vortex — alienated from people they don’t know, fearful about the future. They are less mobilized to take action, not more.” This is never truer in our personal lives too.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. Sure, take a look at what’s weighing you down. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve. Mull over the problem you are having, talk about it, write in your journal. But then take a pause from all of that negativity to review what you can do about the problem. Start living a purposeful life.
It’s about community.
When I popped open my messages from my Meetup group, “Asperger Syndrome:” Partners & Family of Adults with ASD. I was rewarded by yet another deeply moving string of messages on my website. The website is a private place for members to discuss their worries and fears. They ask others for opinions and support. They share their losses and their successes.
Our group is a unique forum for Neuro-Typicals (NTs) who feel alone with the stresses and strains of life with autistics. They feel embarrassed and guilty for even complaining about their problems, as if complaining about someone with autism is somehow wrong or unkind or a terrible sin.
So, I decided to set that straight ten years ago, when I founded the group on Meetup. I thought it was time to bring this problem into the open and shine new light on the painful interactions that occur behind closed doors, within homes where an NT lives with an “Aspie.” (“Aspie” is a brief form of “Asperger Syndrome,” and was coined by autistics).
Since that first time I hosted a small group for lunch in Portland, our group has grown to over 3500 members world-wide. We are represented on every continent, wherever NTs can access the Internet and reach out to their international community, a community that is there for them when they need to know they are not alone.
Rise above the chaos
In fact, our Meetup group is proof that community building leads to personal and social repair, the kind that can change the world by healing hearts.
Below are a few excerpts from the heartfelt email string on our website that caught my attention (without names or identifying information to protect the members). I am blessed to have these powerful people, who each day are facing their problems with grace. There may be no immediate solution to autism or to the heartache it brings to the people who love autistics, but there are answers to taking back your life by rising above the chaos.
A Meetup Member describes her grief over her ASD/NT marriage:
“First I grieved what I thought we had. Next I grieved what we really had. After that I grieved what should never have been. Then I grieved that I would never know what was real. This was followed by grieving all of the people I thought were friends, but were not. I then had to grieve that I had lost myself.
“I am building a new person. I still have tough days, though things are better. I am grateful for this group.”
After a few members commented, Dr. Kathy’s responded:
“Going through the grief helps you to know the truth of who you really are. And you are loved. Taking back your life requires grieving and letting go of false beliefs. Freedom is just around the corner.”
A few more comments and then a member responded:
“Thank u Dr Kathy. U have helped me enormously thru this most difficult journey.”
After several more supportive members commented, another mention from Dr. Kathy to the group:
“Yes, you are an amazing group of powerful Souls. You understand and are brave and kind enough to be there for others. A day does not go by that I don’t grieve for the destruction of my family, but somehow my authentic self is stronger than grief. I no longer just make it through the day. I actually feel free as I soar above the chaos. The chaos isn’t me. The grief isn’t me either. I am so much more. And so are all of you.”
One final member comment:
“Thank you Dr. Kathy. It’s refreshing to know that the ‘chaos isn’t me.’ I have also lost my entire family. I was holding on to escape more Grief. The truth is I prolonged it. This next chapter I get to choose, and thanks to you and all those who go before me, I know it’s true.”
Know the truth of who you are.
If you have a life with an adult on the autism spectrum, . . . if are ready to know the truth of who you are, . . . if you are ready to be part of a community that focuses on what works instead of the problem, . . . if you enjoy helping others do the same, . . . then I hope you join us at “Asperger Syndrome:” Partners & Family of Adults with ASD.